The Role of Invasive Herbal Remedies: Kudzu, Mimosa, Wild Rose...Plantain? Dandelion?

The Role of Invasive Herbal Remedies: Kudzu, Mimosa, Wild Rose...Plantain? Dandelion?

Within our materia medica of common 'weedy' medicinal plants native to the Appalachian mountains where we are based, you will also find a sprinkling of so-called invasive plants which are not native to this area and at times are seen as resource hogs, taking water, sunlight, and nutrients from our native plants and sometimes depleting their populations or even choking them out. One individual, a professional whose work is to control the populations of non-native plants in our woodlands, recently posed a question to us about the harvesting and use of invasive species such as autumn olive, multiflora rose, and mimosa and how this affects their presence amidst our native plants. It's such a fascinating inquiry and important topic that we wanted to address it here. After all, we eat, sleep, and breathe plants: their future is our future and their health is our health. 

Does the Use of Abundant Herbal Remedies Include Invasive Species?

Increasingly, we are finding the plants in our yards are 'foreigners', invasive species which are sometimes stigmatized and snubbed by native plant lovers. What does the presence of these exotic botanicals mean and how do we deal with their infiltration of populations of other plants that we want to see thrive?

Mimosa Tree (Albizia julibrissin) Flower and Leaf

Mimosa tree flowers (Alibizia julibrissin)

Certain invasive herbs have become quite popular in modern herbal medicine: Japanese knotweed is commonly included in protocols for chronic lyme and immune support, kudzu leaves are edible, spinach-like, and certainly abundant, the plant provides an incredibly tough fiber for basket-weaving, and its nutritive, starchy root is an invaluable remedy for a number of physical issues, and mimosa flower goes into many mood-boosting formulas for its reputation as the serotonin-boosting 'happiness tree'. 

Princess Tree (Paulownia tomentosa) Flowers for Herbal Syrup

Princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa) flowers for herbal syrup

Beyond the Idea of Good Natives vs. Bad Invasives

The framing of the invasive plant issue can be as varied as "All non-natives are bad," (see this National Geographic article on the subject) to "...The blame for damage done by so-called invasive species lies with us, when we have created an imbalance that opens opportunities for new species to move in," (Toby Hemenway on Timothy Scott's fascinating book Invasive Plant Medicine, which I recommend)

Wildcrafting Wild Autumn Russian Olive Berries

Autumn/Russian Olive berries (Eleagnus spp.)

The discussion on invasives vs. natives in the realm of modern herbal medicine gets complicated and nuanced quickly, with issues of sustainable wildcrafting and plant population control coming to the forefront. The average herbalist wouldn't dare refer to beloved plantain (which was known as 'English-man's foot' to indigenous Americans) or dandelion as invasive or consider eliminating them from the apothecary because they had origins somewhere other than North America.

To the contrary, the two weeds are present in some form in almost every materia medica and in the majority of apothecaries, mirroring their prevalence throughout the planet. The complexities of invasives vs. natives in the ecosystem are immense and this doesn't even touch on the philosophical lessons that invasive plants might hold for humanity: resilience, adaptability, and thriving under difficult circumstances, to name a few. Invasive plants are scrappy and tenacious to the core - qualities that will become more and more prized as we deal with a changing planet. One thing is becoming clear, though: the hard line between the invasives and the native plans is becoming blurred. 

Conventional wisdom tells us that invasive species are unwanted and insidious. But the landscape is changing; in a warming world, it is becoming increasingly challenging to define what is native and what is not. There is even an area of study within integration biology which looks at the relationship invasive and native plants have with each other. Opportunistic plants offer us the chance to respect them for what they are, appreciate the role they play, receive what they offer, and reimagine how to do this while also preserving and sustaining our native plants. This is their own unique medicine, whether you make it into an herbal tincture (as in Japanese knotweed or kudzu) or not (check out this NY Times article 'Invasives Aren't Always Unwanted' for more). 

Multiflora Wild Rose Glycerite Syrup Herbal Remedy Medicine Making

Making wild rose glycerite from multiflora roses (Rosa multiflora)

Why Harvesting and Using Invasive Plants as Herbal Remedies Helps Balance the Ecosystem

We promote the harvesting and use of medicinally and nutritionally valuable plants and herbs, regardless of where they originate from. Often, the appropriate use of invasives such as multiflora rose blossoms or hips or autumn olive berries can help to control, deter, and diminish their populations by preventing them from seeding or spreading further (since these hips/berries are their reproductive organs). When we harvest wild multiflora rosehips for tea, preserves, or for our award-winning Carolina Bitters digestive formula, or pick autumn olive berries as an antioxidant-rich wild snack or pie filling, we effectively reduce their chances of reseeding themselves with those particular fruits, which may give native botanicals in the area a better chance to hold their own and resist the invasive takeover.

Wild Autumn Olive Tart

Wild Autumn Olive (Eleagnus spp.) tart 

Despite their poor reputation amongst gardeners, invasives do have value when considered part of the larger ecological web. The Albizia julibrissin tree was originally introduced to the US as an ornamental from Asia and adapts well to most soils. When we harvest the stunningly gorgeous mimosa flower and bark to make our grief-supportive and mood-optimizing Mimosa Elixir, we will often drop a branch - which may help reign in the growth of the tree - or gather blooms from a specimen that is about to be cut down or trimmed anyway. Sustainably wildcrafting the blossoms - while, of course, leaving some for pollinators and other people to enjoy - means that we are reducing the self-seeding ability of the tree and therefore future populations of mimosa, while increasing the ability of native trees to thrive. 

What can be done to control the widespread growth of exotic invasives while also helping our precious native (often woodland growing) herbal remedies such as lobelia, yellowroot, Solomon's seal, and black cohosh to thrive? Eating the weeds is a good start. We never promote the cultivation or spreading of invasive plants because their vigor and growth speed has the potential to destroy the native species that make our region of western North Carolina so special and among the most botanically diverse bioregions in the world. But we are long-time purveyors of the Frank Cook (Plants and Healers International) mantra, "Eat something wild everyday," and many of the most sought-after greens in our foraged salads are wild mustard, dandelion, plantain, and garlic mustard. Top that with some blackberries and you have yourself a fully invasive salad. 

Another practice we can all do is essentially 'find and replace'. If on your outdoor adventures you see young multiflora rose, Japanese honeysuckle, oriental bittersweet, privet, Japanese barberry, or Russian olive species which are going to choke out the native botanicals at the woods' edge or in the deep forest, pull out a few of these invasives and plant a seedling of goldenseal, ginseng, bloodroot, or black cohosh in their place. Jeannie loves to do this while giving her goats the opportunity to walk with her and munch down some of these exotic invasives as they will eat whatever she pulls for them. 

Weaving Making Kudzu Baskets Indigneous Basketry

Weaving traditional kudzu baskets at Red Moon Herbs with the incredible teacher Nancy Basket

True Sustainability Through Education, Plant Saves, and Seed Spreading

Perhaps the deepest thread that runs through our 26-year history as a small herb company is that of protecting and spreading seeds of native plant populations. We do plant rescues and saves in which we transplant native medicinals from areas where they would otherwise be eradicated by development. We promote the awareness and use of ginseng leaf which is undervalued yet as or more potent than ginseng root. We share traditional wild-tending strategies such as re-planting pieces ginseng and Solomon's seal roots and planting the berries/seeds before harvesting. We pride ourselves on being leaders in the seed-spreading revolution. 

Intrigued with the subject and looking for more? For further reading, check out the thoroughly researched book Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives. Look into Ann Armbrecht's work on the Sustainable Herbs Project. Support your hyper-local or as-local-as-possible organic and biodynamic farmers, wildcrafters, and herbalists and know your herb sources and #whomakesyourmedicine. And as always, join us in supporting the work of United Plant Savers to conserve and protect our precious native medicinal plants. 

DIY Herbal Eyewashes and Herbal Remedies for Eye Health and Optimal Vision

DIY Herbal Eyewashes and Herbal Remedies for Eye Health and Optimal Vision

How to Make an Herbal Eyewash

I purchased this little vintage ceramic eyecup a few months ago for doing eyewashes and just recently got the chance to use it. I love making up little batches of herbal eyewash for those mornings when you wake up with eyes that are red and crusty, inflamed, dry, or sore. There are a couple of different methods I use when making an herbal eyewash:

Herbal Eyewash for Conjunctivitis, Pink Eye, Itchy, Red, Inflamed Eyes

Method 1. Make a strong base of an herbal tea or infusion and add herbal tinctures into it to make your eyewash. A cooled tea of yarrow, horsetail, calendula, green tea, or chamomile makes a fantastic base for an eye formula. Our Vita-Min tea blend works well, too. 

Method 2. Make a saline solution and add your herbal tinctures into that. I make fresh homemade saline with one cup of boiled, filtered water to 1/2 teaspoon salt, stirred together so that the salt dissolves. Let that cool and then add in your herbal extracts.

Method 3. Use a premade saline solution or sterilized eye solution as your base and add your drops of herbal tinctures into that. You can also just use water if you don't have salt on hand (though it may irritate the eye more than saltwater will).

With any of these methods, it's best to use distilled, filtered, or sterilized and boiled water to eliminate any opportunity for bacteria to get into the eye area. 

There are a few herbs with affinities for and a long-standing tradition of treating the eye area. Some of my favorite herbal extracts for eyewashes that we have in the apothecary are:

  • Chickweed (pictured below) for moistening and clearing
  • Calendula for overall health and as an anti-inflammatory (extract available by special request - order Lymph Love and in the notes at checkout state 'please bottle calendula only')
  • Plantain as a drawing, anti-inflammatory, and clarifying agent
  • Goldenrod for drying and relieving itch and redness
  • Ground ivy as a very traditional remedy for a range of eye issues, including soreness and weakness
  • Yarrow as a catch-all for all of the reasons listed above
  • I’ve used a drop or so of echinacea, too. It's a little tingly but a very effective anti-infective.

Chickweed Fresh Herb Poultice for Eye Health

I simply add a few drops of these herbal tinctures (I was taught no more than 10-20 drops of total tinctures per oz) to one oz or two of boiled, distilled water, or saltwater, or straight saline solution (and let it cool if you did the boiled water, obviously). I have never had any issues with the very small amount of alcohol in the extracts irritating sensitive eyes. With any of these remedies, you want to be sure your herbal extracts or teas are well-strained of particulate matter which could further irritate the eye. 

Running low on kitchen/apothecary supplies? No problem. Kitchen cupboard medicine to the rescue. In a pinch, I've also used a green tea bag (chamomile also works well) as a warm herbal eye compress. Simply make a cup of tea as you normally would, but when you take the tea bag out don't wring it out all the way: leave it a little soggy and apply it to your closed eye for a few minutes, allowing the tea to soak into your eye area as best you can. Got a cucumber? It's a cliche, but not one without its basis in truth. Even slices of cooling cucumber will do something to help draw inflammation out of the eye area - and you get a bonus spa moment.

Using Herbal Tea Bag Compress for Conjunctivitis, Pink Eye, Sore, Red, Itchy Eyes

Making a fresh herb poultice to reduce inflammation and support the eye area is a great option if you have any of these herbs growing around you: chickweed, plantain, calendula, or violet (all leaves or leaf/flower). Simply chop up or crush the fresh plant until it's moist and juicy enough to be clumped into a ball or paste and apply this to the eye area, covering it with a moist cloth if desired. 

Calendula Officinalis Flower Blossoms Herbs for Eye Health

Back to the herbal eyewashes made via the three main methods described above, if you're using a clean, sanitized dropper then simply drop the solution into the affected eye, blinking to help it fully absorb and reach everywhere. If using an eye cup like the one pictured, pour enough into your eye cup to fill it up halfway, hold it up to your eye (head down) to create a seal, then tip your head up and let the solution permeate your eye area, blinking and opening your eye, for 30 seconds to a minute. Use the mixture applied to the eyes 2-6 times daily until the desired outcome is achieved. 

Herbal Eyewash Cup for Inflamed and Sore Eyes

This does *wonders* for tender eyes and I have never had soreness or redness last for more than a day after using an herbal eyewash made with the herbs above.

Herbs for Eye Health and Optimal Vision

We get a lot of inquiries about herbs for overall eye health and optimal vision, and I'll summarize our typical recommendations below. This is not an all-encompassing deep dive whatsoever as eye health is a complex and nuanced issue. Lifestyle and diet (a deficiency in vitamin A leads to night-blindness, for example, and is relatively common) is all-important here, including everything from getting enough sleep to reducing your exposure to blue light and increasing your exposure to natural light to getting plenty of antioxidants in your food (especially blueberries).

Our favorite herbs to use internally to support an overall lifestyle and nutritional effort toward eye health are:

These are all herbs known to support healthy vision through their effects on the cardiovascular system and circulation, the blood, and the pineal gland, or because of their nutrient density. A well-rounded eye health formula might include any or all of the above depending on your constitution, your diet and lifestyle approaches, and the big picture of your overall health. 

Herbs for Eye Health

And don't forget what's perhaps the most important aspect of modern eye health: regulating your screen time and making sure to use your long-range vision so that it doesn't atrophy. Go outside and fix your eyes on a tree on the horizon or a natural element as far away as possible to strengthen your ocular muscles in this way. 

Sugar Cane Grown Organically

Cane Alcohol vs. Grain Alcohol: Myths and Truths

All of our alcohol-based extracts are made with 100% organic cane alcohol (as in sugar cane), a gluten-free alternative to grain alcohol that we have found sits better with our ethics, customer preferences, and extract preparation methods than grain alcohol. Here's more on how we make our medicine for highest potency and safety. 
May 05, 2020 — Red Moon Herbs
How to Make a Wild Herbal Succus: Cleavers

How to Make a Wild Herbal Succus: Cleavers

A succus is essentially a fancy word for a medicinal, concentrated herbal juice, typically preserved with some kind of alcohol. I’m going to make a cleavers succus for acute gentle lymph support, especially when this is so needed during recovery from illness or a time when the body is under prolonged stress. 
Pine Needle Cough Syrup

Pine Needle Cough Syrup

Making pine needle cough syrup is super easy and essentially no more work than making a very strong pine tea and then 'holding' it with good quality, preferably raw, local honey. Pine is an expectorant for thinning and moving mucous in the lungs. It's warming, somewhat drying, and has a sweet and sour flavor blend that can only be described as piney.

Why We Wildcraft

Why We Wildcraft

Here at Red Moon, we have strived for over 20 years to carry on a rich tradition of locally wildcrafting much of the plant material that goes into our tinctures, tea blends, and dried herbs. While many herb companies may have started out wildcrafting their materials, they have quickly realized the true task of collecting plants from the wild: the wild is unforgiving, it is always in a state of flux, and it is never the same two years in a row. It resists management and it laughs in the face of quality control and harvest minimums.

Therefore, it is often easier to turn to cultivation, which can be dependable, regulated, and predictable. But we have stayed true to our course as wildcrafters, true to the Wise Woman Tradition, and true to those wild plants which can be so much more medicinally potent than their cultivated varieties. But why, when the challenge of the wild is so much steeper?

Wildcrafting dandelions

Wildcrafting for the Planet

When we wildcraft in conscious relationship with the ecosystem, we actually work to improve the robustness of the flora and fauna in that environment even as we boost our own health. By gathering the bounty of the wild around us, we encourage the plants to continue blooming, and bloom prolifically: more, faster, longer than before. When we get a haircut, the fibers of our hair react by growing more vigorously and robustly than before; when we prune a vitex bush or wildcraft the bark of a cherry tree’s limbs for medicine, the plant responds by growing faster and producing more buds, blooms, and those incredible phytochemicals – flavonoids, polysaccharides, and alkaloids – that we call medicine.

As wildcrafters, we strive to always familiarize ourselves with the mini ecosystem around us before a harvest. When I go out to gather red clover or nettles to dry for infusions, I remember that these are food herbs for the bees, deer, and rabbits who live in that field or creekbed. Just as they are food herbs for us, bringing us nourishment in the form of proteins, minerals, and vitamins, they are also a major part of the diet for wildlife foragers.

The one-in-three principle is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind. Harvest one, leave two to grow. Take one out of every three blossoms, buds, or berries. While this rule applies to plant populations that are growing in abundance, the rule shifts to one-in-ten among herbs that are rarer or take longer to grow and establish themselves. In reality, there is no clean this-for-that rule when wildcrafting. It is a matter of knowing your ecosystem, the needs of the flora and fauna in it, and the way those species interact with the plant you are harvesting. Always check with resources like United Plant Savers to tell if a plant is rare, threatened, or endangered before harvesting it.

Wildcrafting for Our Physical Health

The superior nutritional and medicinal properties of wildcrafted plants, versus their cultivated counterparts, are well documented. According to a New York Times article on the subject, we are effectively “breeding the nutrition out of our food” the further our cultivated varieties of produce get from their wild origins. Apples have become progressively sweeter over time, as have most fruits, evolving with our sugar-loving taste buds. Fresh cultivated vegetables, even those that are organically grown, have become less potent due to our manipulation of the bitter medicinal alkaloids out of them.

These bitter constituents that are so prevalent in wild food, however, are one of the primary medicinal tonics for organs like the liver and the gallbladder. Digestion is a process that relies on the body’s creation of food-appropriate enzymes that only occurs when food is properly tasted. The bitter components of wild plants help our digestive organs to recognize these foods and produce these enzymes that help us to maximize the nutrition that we derive from them. It is no wonder that a bunch of wild dandelion greens, bitter as they may be, contain far more nutrition, vitamins, and trace minerals, than even the most beautifully grown organic kale. Frank Cook, renowned naturalist, ethnobotanist, and wild foods educator, told us to ‘Eat something wild every day’. This advice, if carried out, goes straight to the liver.

Harvesting wild cherry bark

Spending time in nature – whether wildcrafting, walking, or simply wandering – also comes with a slew of health benefits that are undeniable. Lifespans are at an all-time high (at least for the modern world) and those who spend more time outdoors are more likely to be able to live that lengthy life to its fullest and longest, according to research done by the Journal of Aging Health. Their study found that the seniors who went outside each day complained less about sleeping issues and aching bones, among other things, than those who did not. This increase in lifespans may be due to several factors of spending time in the natural world, including: reduction in stress, increased feelings of happiness and contentment, improved health of the lungs and bloodstream because of exposure to clean air, vitamin D exposure, or lowered blood pressure because of reduced anxiety.

 
The opposite of spending time outdoors has been termed “nature deprivation” and is linked to massive amounts of screen time in front of TVs and computers. This screen time overload is related to increased risk of death, according to research by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. On the contrary, people who spend time in nature may live longer than those who do not. Over five years, a Japanese study was conducted among senior citizens which concluded that those who had accessible, walkable green space were more likely to live longer than those who didn’t. Another study showed that hospital patients exposed to plants expressed lower blood pressure and heart rate, lessened pain and reduced anxiety. It has been proven in several studies that the elderly who spend time outside experience reduced blood pressure, allowing them to prolong their life. If this is what happens by just bringing plants into a room, imagine what happens when people are brought into a whole wondrous landscape of plants to wildcraft them for medicine and food!

 
Forest bathing, a term that has been created to reference people spending time in nature and receiving healing benefits from it, is a side effect of wildcrafting. It refers to the act or the art of spending quality time, unplugged, in a forested setting and simply witnessing the beauty of that world. While you are likely to get more dirty than clean, it is the good kind of dirt, the kind of soul-dirt that fills us and satisfies us and permeates our vision. Those who ‘forest bathe’, or whatever your version of that is, have been documented to live longer, have less stress, and are able to fight off cancer more effectively, according to a number of clinical journals.

Wildcrafting for the Soul

 Wildcrafting yellowroot

But does it go to the soul, too?

As we have seen, the evidence says yes, in many ways and in many languages, both scientific and anecdotal. Wildcrafting and basking in the outdoors nourishes our souls in ways that unspeakable, but universally acknowledged. We connect with wild plants in a way that is carried forth to us in our blood, in our genetics, in our fingerprints. Plants have always been our life source and life force, and when we gather them in their natural habitats we are returning, if ever so briefly, to a moment in our ancestry when we needed them for sustenance, when they were our primary form of health care, and when we were helpless without their generous nourishment.

We wildcraft because we must, we wildcraft because it is part and parcel of our genetic heritage, and we wildcraft to further forge our relationship with the gifts of the wild outdoors and the wild within all of us. So when you see the word ‘wildcrafted’ on one of our labels, you will know that herb originated in the remote hills and valleys of Appalachia, was bartered for with bears and wild boars, and comes from a heart place of primitive connection between our hands and the untamed land of our ancestors.

March 08, 2016 — Heather Wood Buzzard
Cordially Yours: Elderflower Cordial

Cordially Yours: Elderflower Cordial

In early summer, when the roadsides are covered in masses of this plumy whiteness…oh, what’s an herbalist to do? Make elderflower cordial, of course! This sweet, citrusy, and very floral syrup serves as an insanely delightful cocktail blend, pancake drizzle, ice cream topping, yogurt add-on, or cake glaze. This recipe is truly incredibly easy, and a perfect lazy summer activity. The bulk of the work, really, is waiting (which you may find difficult once you smell it for the first time!). You will need:

~45 elderflower heads

9 cups water

3 1/3 lbs sugar

3 organic lemons

3 organic oranges

3 oz citric acid

a large pot, a cloth, a spoon, and two days time

Clip about 45 fully open heads of elderflower (Sambucus nigra or Sambucus canadensis…not Sambucus racemosa!) and use them immediately or refrigerate them until you can get around to making the cordial. They will last for a day or two in the fridge, but not much longer.

Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a large pot, and cool down. Grate the lemon peel and add to the water, and then cut the lemons into slices and stir those in. Do the same thing with the oranges. Stir in your citric acid, and then finally stir in the elderflower heads (stem and all is just fine).

Cover the pot with a cloth and let sit for 24-48 hours. Strain, use, and refrigerate. Delish!

 

 

Experimenting With Syrups

Experimenting With Syrups

What could be more evocative of the summer than a light and sweet, floral and fragrant drizzle of a fresh blossom syrup on your morning oatmeal or in your evening cocktail (or just by the plain old spoonful)? Herbal syrups are a delight – both to create and to consume. An abundance of those herbs that make for syrupy goodness pop out in mid-late spring and early summer. Those herbs which best tend to lend their powers to syrups are often those herbs that are themselves the most, well, syrupy! Think of our favorite demulcent, nourishing, gentle, slightly sweet, moist, mucilaginous plants: violet, linden, marshmallow, slippery elm. These blooms, barks, and roots already have those slippery sweet qualities that we associate with syrups, so when they are infused or decocted and cooked down with some good-quality honey, a nourishing herbal medicinal treat is the natural product.

Violets

We’ve been trying out a couple of different herbal syrups this week which highlight two of the most showy purple flowers here in the Appalachians. The first, violet blossom syrup, is a timeless tradition. Creme de Violette, the classic purple-hued Italian liqueur, is a staple in drinks like the Aviation, a popular craft cocktail during the warm months. Your everyday weedy lawn violets will work just perfectly for this syrup, and you may munch on the leaves while you’re harvesting the blooms. Fill a quart mason jar with your harvested violet blooms, pour boiling water over the flowers so that they’re covered, and let that steep 4-8 hours or overnight. Strain the flowers out, and gently heat the remaining liquid on very low heat with honey/sugar (an equal amount by weight). Until your desired sweetness is achieved. This is a wonderful activity for getting the whole family involved in the harvest, unless you don’t mind spending a sunny afternoon picking violet blossoms (if you offer to pay a penny per flower harvested, we’ve found this generally works pretty well on the younger ones).

Violet Syrup

Violet syrup is a well-known traditional soother and softener of tissues and may be a gentle stimulant to the lymphatic system. Violet leaf and blossom nourish the waters of the body and are used in tandem to ease coughs and chest congestion. The royal turquoise-amethyst colored syrup is a delicate medicine, a friend of sore throats and sometimes of tummy troubles, and traditionally a specific for nourishing the breast tissue. Children love violets, adults love violets…what’s not to love? And now we head to the experimentation station, where we’ll meet with a not-so-classic herbal syrup. In fact, this one may never have been made before! For this recipe, we used the lavender colored flowers of the Princess Tree, or royal Paulownia (Paulownia tomentosa). This invasive tree is not well-loved due to its non-native status, but in our corner of the world it grows so prolifically that we have accepted it and decided to make the best of it. In contrast to the violets, the princess tree flower harvest takes only a few minutes. The edible blooms are so hefty and decadent that they fall from the tree, making harvesting a cinch. Like the violets, we collected about a quart’s worth of paulownia blooms and poured boiling water over them, lidded it, and let it steep overnight. The resulting liquid had turned a deep amber hue, and smelled vaguely of vanilla.

Princess Tree

We preserved our Princess Tree syrup by stirring equal parts (by weight) sweetener into it (you may gently reheat to get the honey/sugar to dissolve). Or you can add equal parts simple syrup (one part water to one part honey/sugar). We added a few teaspoons of vanilla to pull out more of that sweet flavor. You may refrigerate the syrup for a few weeks before it will begin to ferment. Those of you who believe that rules were made to be broken will already know what we’re about to say – don’t hold steadfast to this recipe! Recipes are made for experimentation! Why not try making a syrup from your favorite bloom? Dandelion, calendula, or birch bark? Why not? Want more syrups? Check out the basic proportions here. Or check out our new Wild Cherry Bark Syrup here.

Vintage Botanical Illustration Poke Root (Phytolacca americana)

Honoring Grandmother’s Wisdom with Poke Root: How to Make Poke Oil and Salve

by Corinna Wood

Growing up in the Northeast, I loved playing with the purple pokeberries, painting designs on my skin. My parents allowed this, though they made it clear that I shouldn’t eat the berries of this “poisonous, invasive weed.” The huge poke plants were such a bane in their garden that they would actually tie a rope around the roots and use a Jeep to pull them out!

Medicinal Benefits of Poke Root

Poke salve and oil have traditionally be used for lymphatic support when applied externally or on lymph glands, lumps, bumps, growths and tumors.

Poke root is best dug up in the fall, after the plant has died back for the winter. This is when the plant is the most medicinal and the least toxic.

Once you’ve dug up the root (and parked the Jeep), the next step is drawing out those medicinal properties. . .

How to Make Poke Root Oil and Salve

Making poke oil:

1) Wash the root

2) Chop it into small pieces (Important: wear gloves to protect  skin from absorbing the medicine.)

3) Leave it out to air dry in a warm place for a few hours, until it is dry to the touch.

3) Fill a jar with the chunks of root, and add oil to cover the roots. (Note: Any oil works. Olive oil resists rancidity.) 

4) Leave on your counter for six weeks, topping off the oil level as needed to cover the roots.

5) After six weeks, strain out the roots.

Making poke salve:

1) Grate a tablespoon of beeswax for each ounce of infused oil.

2) Warm the oil on low heat, add the grated beeswax, and stir until melted.

3) Pour liquid into jar and allow to cool and solidify.

(Note: if consistency is too hard, remelt and add more infused oil, if too soft, remelt and add more wax.)

 “[Poke] speaks to our blood…What a perfect maturity it arrives at! It is the emblem of a successful life…What if we were to mature as perfectly, root and branch…like the poke!” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Halloween: The Significance of this Cross-Quarterly Holiday

by Corinna Wood

Some of you may know the quarterly holidays fairly well – Spring and Fall Equinox as well as Winter and Summer Solstice. If the year were charted in a circle, these points make a cross both down the vertical middle and through the horizontal center of the circle. Between each of these points are what’s known as cross quarterly holidays. These are Imbolc (early February), Beltane or May Day, Lammas (early August) and Halloween or Samhain, which falls halfway between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice.

In times of old, the cross quarterly holidays closest to Winter Solstice (Samhain and Imbolc) were celebrated on the new moon and those cross quarterly holidays closest to Summer Solstice (Beltane and Lammas) were celebrated on the full moon.  So this year, by today’s solar calendar, the fixed date of Halloween is, of course, Wednesday, October 31st; but if we were to celebrate it in the old ways, it would be November 13th, the date of the new moon, also known as Lunar Halloween or Lunar Samhain.
I love the holiday times that fall around Halloween–I delight in watching the kids in my rural community walk through the woods from house to house to trick-or-treat. It also a marks the time of the year that moves into the darkness, winter, and inward quiet time, which is precious to me, my work, and my family. Further, as is known in many other modern cultures, this is the best time to honor and remember our dead. It is often said that the veils between the worlds are the thinnest at this time making it an opportune time to learn about, create, or attend Day of the Dead ceremonies.

From a medicine-make perspective, this is the beginning of the root harvest. The bulk of our harvest takes place in November and December when perennial plants send their energy down below the ground for the winter. We’ll soon be harvesting dandelion, yellow dock, poke, burdock, echinacea, and comfrey roots.